Bemidji scored three goals quickly and allowed only one to pick up the win against Crookston.
With 13:33 to play in the first period, the Bemidji Lumberjacks already led the Pirates 3-0. A 2-on-1 attack with a rebound goal broke the scoreless tie 36 seconds into the game, a tic-tac-toe goal made it 2-0 and another goal less than a minute later put Crookston in an early hole. A hole they could not climb out of resulting in a 3-1 loss.
“The first three or four minutes of that game were a little hectic,” Head Coach Josh Hardy said. “That’s not the way we wanted to start and funny enough, we talked about how important those first five minutes of the game are. We just didn’t come out and play how we needed to.”
The bad news, Crookston allowed three early goals. The good news, Crookston held Bemidji scoreless for the remaining 47:27.
Senior forward Ethan Magsam drew the Pirates closer six minutes into the second period with his eighth goal of the season. Sophomore forward Joey Doda received credit for the assist.
“We finally won a face-off in the zone and Joey Doda made a great shot,” Hardy said. “I thought his went in, but [Magsam] went to the net and buried the rebound so that was fun.”
The Pirates survived 2:52 worth of Bemidji power plays before a Lumberjack penalty created a 4-on-4 situation. Once Crookston was at full strength, they held a 5-on-4 advantage for 43 seconds and 5-on-3 for nine seconds after another penalty on the Lumberjacks. Once Bemidji became one man short, the Lumberjacks kept Crookston off the board for the remaining 1:51 and stayed ahead 3-1. By the end of the period, the Pirates equaled Bemidji’s shots on goal total with 18 after finishing the first period with five.
“We had all sorts of opportunities,” Hardy said. “Credit to Matt Fitzgerald. He’s not only one of the best goalies in the section, but one of the best in the state. He was on his game tonight and we tested him frequently and he held us off.”
The Pirates tried to inch closer on their fourth power play of the night, but 1:24 into the power play, an interference call evened the playing field.
With 13 minutes to play, a high stick penalty put Bemidji a man short, but once again, the Lumberjacks defense kept the Pirates at bay.
When the clock showed two minutes to play, Crookston pulled their goalie senior Cade Salentine to get an extra man on the ice. Bemidji prevented any scoring and held on to win 3-1 dropping the Pirates’ record to 7-7.
Salentine finished the game with 23 saves stopping the final 18 shots.
“They got three goals right away,” Hardy said. “One iffy one, one pretty one and one were they just outworked us. I called a timeout and asked ‘where are we going to go from here? Is this going to be a 9-0 game or are we going to fight back?’ Credit to the boys, they came back and really played well. But it takes 51 minutes not 48.”
The Pirates have spent 24 straight days at least .500 or better and will look to keep that streak alive when they hit the road for a pair of games against Park Rapids on Thursday, January 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Warroad on Saturday, January 13 at 4:15 p.m.
Crookston defeated Park Rapids 6-3 and Warroad 4-3 in overtime earlier this season and Hardy believes the turnaround he saw from his players in the loss to Bemidji could be what they need to turn the corner after losing four of their last five.
“We took a step backwards this weekend and today was a step forward confidence-wise,” Hardy said. “We got back to how we can play tonight. Hopefully we can carry that over to Thursday and then we have a big one on Saturday.”